For centuries, medical science was largely about reacting to and treating symptoms of disease. But now with medical sensor technology, medicine can take a more proactive approach to disease, stopping an illness before symptoms even present themselves.
Sensors are devices that recognize particular biological, chemical, or physical signs, and then send or record this recognition. Some sensors function outside the human body while others are built to be incorporated in the body.
Some devices contain a number of sensors that evaluate any number of physical or biological parameters, while others may be multifunctional, integrating sensors and then providing medication or otherwise taking action. Some sensors are parts on a more sophisticated system that handles clinical specimens, like increasingly popular “lab-on-a-chip” research devices.
Sensors designed to keep patients healthy include those in devices used at home by patients. Essentially a basic sensor, thermometers translate the volume of a heat-responsive fluid or metal strip into a number indicating temperature. Home pregnancy tests, another kind of sensor, use a substance that changes color in the presence of certain pregnancy hormones. A blood glucose meter uses a chemical reaction and an electrical current to allow individuals with diabetes to monitor their condition.
Hospitals and other medical facilities use more advanced sensors like pulse oximeters, which gauge variations in the body’s absorption of unique kinds of light to offer data on a patient’s heart rate and blood-oxygen levels.
A 2014 report by Soreon Research suggested the appearance of wearable smart devices will kick-off an in-depth transformation of the healthcare industry. The report said this shift will be powered by four factors: a change from disease care to prevention; more personalization of medical care; shifting medical standards derived from an unprecedented stream of data coming from many individuals; and the rise of technology companies that are disrupting the healthcare industry.
When it comes to developing a wearable system, patient comfort is among the most crucial variables to consider. When a wearable device is comfortable, the user is much more prone to use it as prescribed, as opposed to wearing them periodically or in a way that affects fidelity.
Wearable bands are a very popular kind of sensor that track daily activity, such as the number of hours slept overnight, or the number of steps taken in a day. Many of these devices can connect to a smartphone, permitting the sharing tracking of data over time for sharing or analysis.
Skin-worn patches are another kind of sensor that can be worn underneath clothing, which makes them a very subtle and private option. With a skin patch device, other people are more likely to not realize the individual is going through medical care or being observed by healthcare professionals.
Also, because these patches can be built to be worn around-the-clock, they need little to no attention from the wearer. Patients can perform their daily activities without needing to regularly recharge a battery or take their device off to shower. All of these aspects can be crucial for healthcare uses that need uninterrupted tracking of their condition for several days.
Emerging Medical Sensor Technology
The kinds of sensors being developed and researched today may play major roles in expanding and greatly shifting the delivery of health care.
One area that is particularly primed for change is point-of-care (POC) technologies. Point-of-care is the location where patients receive health care, such as a primary care office or a patient's own home. Researchers focused on POC are looking to confront problems associated with the concentration of services on medical centres and labs. POC research is focused on technologies that give providers a chance to diagnose and treat a more conditions in a single visit, as opposed to having patients make additional appointments, go to specialists or wait extended periods for test outcomes.